“I been readin’ about you… how you work for the blue skins… and how in a planet someplace you helped out the orange skins… and you done considerable for the purple skins! Only there’s skins you never bothered with… the black skins! I want to know… how come?! Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!”
– From Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76, 1970
That’s the key scene in one of the most beloved and most reprinted comics of all time, the beginning of the “relevant” run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow. In the hands of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, GL/GA had a galvanizing effect in its day, winning many industry awards and almost universal acclaim as classics. There’s just one problem. The comics are pretty awful.
Read today, the original Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories are terribly dated. The comics are of their era and talk about old issues in an outdated way. The comics are so completely of their unique time that they feel as irrelevant as a comic depicting the horrors of World War II. While comics like the O’Neil/Adams collaborations on Batman still have a real spark of energy, to a great extent the GL/GA comics fall flat on the page.
What does this have to do with the adventures of everyone’s favorite inept barbarian? Just that this comic has a touch of relevance as well, a moment that will shortly seem as dated as a reference to the Soviet Union in an ’80s comic.
The main body of this issue is a typically charming, funny and insightful story. Groo finds himself in a small kingdom where two princes are having a running battle about their town’s priorities. One brother wants to use the military to help him, while the other wants to use the ecology to help him. This being Groo, of course, the two princes are really only out for their own gain and not to help their town. They’re selfish and only care for themselves. As usual, ordinary people are the victims of the secret plans of their leaders. Citizens are innocents in the hands of those in power. That’s fun and funny, a classic bit of Groo work.
But the story leads to a moment that reminded me of the O’Neil/Adams GL/GA, a moment that really took me out of the story and made me not enjoy it as much. Towards the end of the issue, Groo’s friend the Sage preaches to one prince why he should really care about the environment instead of just paying lip service to it. “It is the very health of the world we inhabit,” the Sage preaches, “Have you been saying that to the north, the very glaciers are melting at an alarming rate? That our rivers are filling in unnatural manners?” It’s all very pedantic and dull. Maybe more frustrating, the items preached to readers are things that almost everybody knows. When even George W. Bush has publicly stated that climate change is a fact, there’s not exactly a lot of controversy here. So what’s the point of bringing this dull and depressing moment into a funny, fast-paced and entertaining story?
All that moment did for me was take me out of the story and made me wonder if I wanted to stay with this series. I loved all the classic Groo stuff – Groo’s mindless violence, the princes’ self-interest, the townspeople’s angry frustrated cluelessness. And of course Sergio Aragones’s artwork is as perfect as ever. But one moment of preachiness really ruined the issue for me.